2014 Colombian Adventure: Valle De Leyva, Pereira, and Valle de Cocoro

Date: June 13-20th, 2014

This June, just few weeks after coming back from Prague and Barcelona, I went off to visit my in-laws in Bogota. This was my third trip to Colombia, and second to Bogota, so this time we didn't spend much time in the city and instead headed out for few excursions. The first one was to Villa De Leyva, a historic village about a 3 hour drive from Bogota. It was a pretty spectacular drive over a small mountain range. There we got to witness history, as Colombia defeated Greece 3-0 in Colombia's first return to the World Cup since 1994!

Villa De Leyva

June 14-15th, 2014

Villa de Leyva is (according to Wikipedia) one of Colombia's finest colonial villages, dating all the way back to 1572. It is located in a valley at elevation of 7034 feet. The town consists of a large square which is line with shops and restaurants. One of the cobble-stone streets leading into the hills also led to our hotel, the magnificent Hospederia Duruelo. This place is more than a hotel - it is a resort with a tennis court, minigolf, several restaurants, swimming pool and spa, and even a lake. What impressed me further was that the hotel contained a large natural water filtration station where rainfall water was passed through several rock beds and then collected in barrels.

colombian scenery
Scenery on the way to Villa De Leyva
We stopped for breakfast at a road side caffe. I particularly enjoyed the caldo (beef broth with potatoes) served in a clay pot
At the Duruelo hotel with my Colombian family
villa de leyva villa de leyva
This is the main square of Villa De Leyva
villa de leyva at night
It was particularly nice at night
farmers market in villa de leyva colombia colombian fruit
We stopped by the farmers market to stock up on fruits. Colombia has a number of various "booger" fruits, and they are all delicious.
Ready to cheer for Los Cafeteros!

Pereira and Valle de Cocoro

June 16-19th, 2014

After a short night back in Bogota, it was time again to leave, this time by catching a morning flight to Pereira. Pereira can be reached by traveling for about 7 hours on twisty mountain roads, or by a 45 minute flight. From what I heard, the car trip is an unforgettable experience - if for nothing else than for the extranjeros getting car sick! Pereira is the largest city in Colombia's Zona Cafetera. It is also known for its somewhat more liberal female population. The outfits we saw here would definitely look out of place in Bogota. We stayed with Ivonne's godparents, Gregorio and Gilma.

At Gregorio's apartment.
Their son Mauricico next invited us to his house for lunch and to watch the USA-Ghana game, which was only being shown on Direct TV (in which USA surprisingly defeated Ghana 2-1). On the way there, we stopped by his stables, where he trains show horses.
Arepa oven Colombian arepa with cheese Colombian sweet arepa
We also stopped by a road side arepa stand. I learned on this trip that there are many different kinds of arepas, ranging from the tasteless white corn kind to delicious sweet yellow corn filled sandwiches.
That evening we headed to Termales de Santa Rosa, a volcanic fed thermal spa, located about an hour from Pereira. Bathing in a hot water while enjoying Cuba Libre is a good way to spend your vacation!

The next day we headed off to Valle De Cocora. This valley is home to the Colombian national tree: palma de cera (wax palm). These uniquely looking palm trees can grow up to heights of 200 feet, making them the tallest palm trees in the world. This is also a place of very neat natural beauty. Hiking trails link it to the extensive Los Nevados National Park - where parents take their kids to experience snow for the first time.

This place is also famous for its trucha (or trout). We tried this local delicacy at Bosques de Cocora. The fish was served on top of a large fried plantain.
horse back raiding in Valle de Cocora
Next we set off to see a waterfall. We went by horseback and this was bit more exhilirating than I had imagined. My horse was bit too restless (he didn't like getting passed) and the trail was quite steep in few spots. I don't have any of those photos since I was doing my best not to fall off!
waterfall in cocora salento, colombia
After visiting the waterfall and making it back all in one piece, we visited Salento, the near-by town. It has a lot of artisan shops and is a good place to buy quality gifts.
simon bolivar in pereira
We spent the next day exploring Pereira. Gregorio took us to see some of the highlights, including the naked Simon Bolivar straddling his horse.
We also visited the cathedral of the "poor". The interior of this church is to a large part made of wood, including the support structures. Next we stopped for coffee at the Lucerna pastry shop. The name caught my attention since there is the famous shopping mall with the upside down horse in the heart of Prague with the same name. Lucerna means lantern in Czech but since this comes originally from Latin, it should not be surprising to find the name used in a Spanish-speaking country. Later that evening we had a nice dinner in Portobello.

Day in Bogota

June 19-20th, 2014

The next morning we took a flight back to Bogota. The plane was bit delayed which meant we landed just few minutes before the start of the Colombia's second world cup match. It was against Ivory Coast, the toughest oponnent from the Group C. All the TVs at the airport were crowded so we grabbed a taxi to watch it at a friend's house. The streets of Bogota were completely empty of traffic with the whole city on standstill watching Colombia finish with another win. The latter 0-0 tie between Japan and Greece assured Colombia advancing to the second round regardless of the outcome of their last game.

I enjoyed just how much everyone in Colombia was into the World Cup. There were TVs everywhere: in parks, in shops, the airport, even the shopping malls had set up viewing areas.
Dinner with wifey before I headed back on my own - Sandra would stay for few more days to be with her mom. Bogota has some of the best restaurants, and our dinner in Tienda De Cafe did not disappoint. The flight from Bogota to D.C. crosses over the Bahamas, which look absolutely spectacular.

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